Jack Ohman

Johnson magic: can he keep the Kings?

I attended my first Sacramento Kings game Sunday evening.

I have to say that I only have a passing interest in this sort of thing. I'm more of a baseball person. It's more sedate; basketball is something I find generally stressful. I usually like to watch sports to relax, and basketball is certainly a lot of things, but relaxing isn't one of them. So when I go to an NBA game, it's to entertain my two sons.

They are, shall we say, microscopically knowledgeable about the NBA. For example, they could probably have a conversation with Kevin Johnson about his own career that would put Michelle Rhee to shame. 

Both of my sons are in town this week, and I took them and another boy to the Sixers-Kings game. Again, I don't really follow this stuff that closely, but I was reliably informed by my color commentator progeny that this was a fairly typical performance for the Kings. Fine. It was more fun to watch my sons and our friend enjoying it, anyway.

Another thing I enjoyed watching were the Kings fans. In Portland, it's a more coffee shop culture fan base. One of my sons tells me that one Blazer player is enormously popular in Portland for his interest in art and his residence in the tony Pearl District. In observing the Kings fans, I saw a more passionate, visceral affinity. 

In Portland, fans have to be constantly exhorted to cheer, or, indeed, to show vital signs. Like Los Angeles Lakers games, where many of the game attendees are there to see and be seen, the Portland fans are also there as somewhat casual observers. The only face paint you would see would be from the Lancome counter.

Sacramento's fans, on the other hand, were yelling, wearing all sorts of Kings gear and baubles, and paying pretty close attention to the game, even when the Kings drifted away from the Sixers, who started off behind but wound up 15 points at the end. There was even a Kings fan in a gorilla suit.

Loud, rhythmic chants of "Here We Stay" bounced off the Sleep Train arena's 1988-era cement walls, and it was difficult to hear. During the ironically-timed "Here We Stay" chant, many fans began exiting the venue to their cars when it was clear that the Kings weren't going to stay for the end of the game, either.

The end of the game is approaching for the entire franchise, one way or the other. Monday afternoon brought Mayor Johnson and his aides into The Bee editorial offices to explain the many intricacies of the deal that the city was throwing together to keep the team. 

As is common in these types of situations ( building big muck-producing tunnels, shotgun weddings, starting a war) , the amount of public scrutiny is going to be limited by design and by time itself. The brokers want a vote by the Sacramento City Council by Tuesday night. To deliberately mix sports metaphors for lightly humorous effect, this deal isn't exactly a Hail Mary pass, but it's definitely a two outs in the bottom of the ninth scenario.

Sometimes these deals work out; the 23-year-old millionaires with the basketballs as well as the real estate lawyers are compensated, and the fans win, too. But make no mistake: this is a business deal. Whales may have some interest in basketball, but I'll bet they probably couldn't hold their own in a conversation with my sons about Kevin Johnson's career. Or maybe even with Michelle Rhee.

And to go back to a more relevant metaphor, Kevin Johnson is on the free throw line. He was very good at it in his career. 

I can tell you that he's also on the warning track, he's got a heavy pass rush, and he needs to sink this putt or it's goodbye Mr. Spaulding.

So, Mayor Johnson, in the words of a great Californian, win one for The Gipper.

Or at least the Kings fan in the gorilla suit.